Why is there a Second Day of Holiday
On the eighth day you are to hold a solemn assembly; you are not to do any mundane work. You shall offer a burnt offering, a fire offering for a spirit of satisfaction to the Lord: one bull, one ram, seven male lambs a year old - (all) unblemished - with their grain and drink offerings for the bulls, rams, and lambs, according to their number, as prescribed. And one male goat as a sin offering, besides the regular burnt offering with its grain and drink offerings. You shall offer these to the Lord at your appointed times in addition to your vow and voluntary offerings, whether burnt, grain, drink, or peace offerings.
The Second Day as the Result of Uncertainty
Jews outside Eretz Yisrael celebrate each of the holidays for two days, while in Eretz Yisrael they are celebrated for a single day (except Rosh HaShana, which will be discussed below). The source of this Halachic practice is Talmudic. During the times of Chazal (our Sages), the Jewish calendar was not fixed in advance. On a monthly basis, witnesses would appear before the Sanhedrin in Yerushalayim and testify that they had physically seen the new moon. Once the judges of the Sanhedrin completed their examination of the witnesses to their satisfaction, the judges declared that the new month had begun.
Since the Jewish (lunar) month can be twenty-nine or thirty days in length, there was great significance to the declaration of the new month, especially for those months in which there are holidays, such as Tishrei and Nissan. For example, the holiday of Sukkot commences on the fifteenth of Tishrei; if the month of Elul had twenty-nine days, Sukkot would commence a day earlier than if Elul had a full thirty days. It was therefore necessary for Jews to be updated on the declaration of the new month by the Sanhedrin. Since in ancient times there were no media such as the internet or WhatsApp for rapid dissemination of information, the Sanhedrin relied on a system of lighting bonfires to announce the new month. Following the declaration of the new month, bonfires were lit on the Mount of Olives, opposite the Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) where the Sanhedrin sat. These bonfires would be seen on various hills, where additional bonfires would be lit. In this manner, Jewish communities in Eretz Yisraeland abroad would be informed of the commencement of the month and would know when the holidays fell.
However, the Kutim, who did not accept the authority of the Sages, began to intentionally light bonfires on the wrong day, causing confusion and mistakes. Therefore, the Sages replaced the system of bonfires with a system of messengers who travelled throughout Eretz Yisrael and to the Diaspora to announce the new month. The Sanhedrin sent its messengers six times per year: Tishrei because of the holidays; Kislev, because of Ḥanukka; Adar because of Purim; Nissan because of Pesaḥ; Av, because of the fast of Tisha b’Av; Elul, because of Rosh haShana. (When the Beit haMikdash stood, messengers were sent also to announce the start of Iyyar, because of Pesaḥ Sheni.) [Babylonian Talmud, Rosh haShana 18a]
The range of Sanhedrin’s messengers was limited by travel time and conditions, therefore, Jewish communities far from Yerushalayim were unaware of whether the outgoing month had been of twenty-nine or thirty days and were forced to observe two days of the holidays due to the uncertainty.
Nowadays, the months are no longer declared by Beit Din, but are based on calculation and we have a fixed calendar. It would seem, therefore, that the reason for the institution of the second day of holidays in the Diaspora no longer exists, and we must understand why Diaspora communities continue to observe a custom whose rationale has disappeared.
Halacha Given to Moshe at Sinai or a Regulation Instituted by the Prophets
Traditional sources other than the Gemara present additional reasons for the establishment of the second day of the holidays in the Diaspora.
Otzar haGaonim [Beitza4b] presents two additional reasons:
1) The Gaonim quote Rav Sa’adya Gaon’s comment that the second day of holidays in the Diaspora is Halacha l’Moshe miSinai, which was transmitted to the Sages by Moses along with the secrets of calculating the months.
2) The Gaonim also write that the second day of holidays in the Diaspora is a regulation initiated by the prophets in the days of Yehoshua bin Nun and re-instituted by Yeḥezkel and Daniel.
At first glance, the comments of the Gaonim are quite surprising; the Gemaraexplicitly taught that the reason for second day of holidays in the Diaspora is much later than the periods the Gaonim suggest, having been initiated by the Talmudic Sages as the results of the technical reason of the uncertainty created by the Kutim. How can the Gaonim state that second day of holidays in the Diaspora is a regulation of the prophets or even earlier, given at Sinai?
Clearly, Rav Sa’adya Gaon and the other Gaonim do not argue with the Gemara. We may suggest that the Halacha given to Moshe at Sinai was not that the holidays should be celebrated for two days in the Diaspora, which indeed is a much later enactment; what Moshe transmitted to the Sages, along with the secrets of calculating the calendar, was the fact that spiritually, a single day of the holidays suffices in Eretz Yisrael, while outside the Land, two days are necessary spiritually (see below). This internal – spiritual teaching reached its practical application only when the Sages saw a halachic reason (the uncertainty of the actual date of the holidays) to institute the second day of holidays outside Eretz Yisrael.
Rosh HaShana is celebrated for two days even in Eretz Yisrael. The Gemaraprovides the simple reason that since Rosh HaShana is the first of the month of Tishrei, the uncertainty as to the day on which it falls exists even in Israel. Since witnesses could appear before the Sanhedrin at midday, there is a possibility that the day which began presumptively as a week day will actually be declared to be Rosh HaShana. Thus, the uncertainty dictates observing the thirtieth and thirty-first days after the commencement of Elul as holidays. Yet, here as well, we have a traditional source which presents an alternate explanation for the institution of two days of Rosh HaShana. Zohar[Parashat Pinḥas] states that the two days of Rosh HaShanacorrespond to “Strict Judgment” (Din Kasheh) and “Mild Judgement” (Din Rafui), apparently contradicting the Gemara.
In his book Michtav MeEliyahu, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (1892 - 1953) explains that the intention of Zohar is that, at times God arranges reality in a manner which creates a situation with deep significance. Divine Providence and the laws of the Torah (granting the Sages power to enact regulations) allowed the Sages to extend God’s judgment on Rosh HaShana to an additional day. Since the second was added through the initiative of the Sages, the judgment of that day is milder than that of the first day of Rosh HaShana.
Something similar can be seen in connection with blowing the shofar. The Gemara[Rosh HaShana 33b] teaches that shevarim and teruah are blown because we are uncertain of the nature of the Torah’s “teruah.” However, Zohar states that rather than blowing both shevarim and teruahbecause of uncertainty, there are inherent reasons for blowing both. In essence, because of the deep internal dimension of the sounds of the shofar, God created the uncertainty so that we will blow both shevarim and teruah.
One day is Insufficient Outside Eretz Yisrael
Based upon the above, we can say that while the Gemara explains the historic reason for instituting the second day of the holidays outside Israel, there are two internal reasons for the regulation, independent of the uncertainty which the Gemara cites as the reason for the regulation. Thus, the Gaonimpresented the regulation as Halacha l’Moshe miSinai or as having been instituted by the prophets. This also explains why today we continue to observe the second day of the holidays outside Israel, despite the fact that the reason for instituting the regulation is no longer valid; while there is no longer uncertainty as to the actual dates, the internal reasons continue to exist.
It seems that the comment of Ba’al HaTanya (Rabbi Shneor Zalman, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe [1745 - 1812]) clarifies the internal reason for the second day of the holidays outside Israel, when he writes that outside Eretz Yisrael two days are necessary to achieve the spiritual enlightenment which can be reached in a single day within the Land.
As Kuzariexplains in the well-known parable of the vineyard, to be able to grow the choicest grapes requires planting the vines in the most suitable soil; similarly, for the Nation of Israel to realize its mission in the world, the nation must be “planted” in the appropriate soil, Eretz Yisrael. In Eretz Yisrael, the nation can serve God in the most complete and desirable manner; and it is only with her that we are able to properly fulfill our national task. Outside Eretz Yisrael, our service of God is diminished – therefore, what can be achieved spiritually in Eretz Yisrael in a single day requires two outside the Land.
Rosh HaShana – The Day of Judgment
At this point we may ask – given that the internal reason for observing the second day of the holidays outside Eretz Yisrael is the need for two days to accomplish what can be done in Eretz Yisrael in a single day, why is Rosh haShana celebrated for two days even in Israel?
The above quoted comment of Zohar provides the answer: beyond the reason which applies to other holidays, there is an additional reason for Rosh HaShanabeing celebrated for two days. Rosh HaShana is the day of coronation of God as the King of the Universe and it is also the day on all creatures pass before Him in judgment. Zohar states that for deep (mystical) reasons, having God’s judgment spread over two days creates the situation of the first day being “strict judgment” with the second being “mild judgment.”
Among the explanations of Zohar‘s comment, we will present the thought that the fact that the second day of Rosh HaShana was instituted at the initiative of Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel), through the Sages’ enactment, aroused Devine mercy for the nation, since we demonstrated our desire to coronate Him by adding the second day. Based upon this explanation, had God decreed two days of Rosh HaShana, the second day would not have had the aspect of “mild judgment.” Rather, God proclaimed a single day of Rosh haShana and gave Israel the halachic possibility of adding the second day. The concept of Rosh HaShana as the time of judgment applies equally to Eretz Yisrael and other lands, and thus even in Israel it is celebrated for two days.
I Did not Tend My Own Garden [Shir HaShirim 1:6]
Perhaps what we have written explains another Midrash. Talmud Yerushalmi[Eruvin chapter 3] suggests that the second day of the holidays is a sort of punishment:
“My mother's sons were incensed against me; they made me a keeper of the vineyards; I did not tend my own vineyard.” – What caused me to be the keeper of the vineyards and observe the second day of the holidays outside the Land? It was the fact that I did not tend my own vineyards; that I did not observe the single day (of the holidays) within Eretz Yisrael.
The comment of the Yerushalmi seems difficult to understand: can the second day of the holidays really be considered punishment? The holidays (our Sages’ term them “yom tov,” literally “good day”) are days of rest and sanctity which facilitate Am Yisrael’s spiritual advancement. How then, can the additional day be considered punishment? Based upon our comments, the punishment is not in the second day of the holidays, but in the reality of being outside Eretz Yisrael which forces the need of a second day to achieve the spiritual goals of the holidays.
We saw that the Gaonim suggest that the second day of the holidays outside Eretz Yisrael were Halacha l’Moshe MiSinai or a regulation of the prophets, while the Gemara states that the regulation was instituted due to uncertainty of the actual dates. Based upon Ba’al HaTanya’s comment, we explained that though the regulation was instituted in practice in Talmudic times, God had already informed Moshe at Sinai that there will be a need to institute this regulation, since it is not possible to achieve the same spiritual enlightenment in Eretz Yisrael and abroad. Thus, when Am Yisrael was exiled to the Diaspora, it was necessary to institute observance of the second day of the holidays so that Jews abroad will be able to achieve the spiritual enlightenment which those within the Land reach in a single day.
Thank God, in our times we merit living in Eretz Yisrael and succeed in achieving the enlightenment of each of the holidays within a single day.
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